By Cliff Brunt
The Associated Press
STILLWATER — Marcus Smart has calmed down, perhaps in time to save Oklahoma State’s season.
The dynamic point guard has been dominant since returning from a three-game suspension for shoving a fan at Texas Tech. In wins over the Red Raiders and TCU, he displayed a new sense of calm while averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 steals. The Cowboys (18-10, 6-9 Big 12) have bounced back from a seven-game losing streak and can strengthen their once-fading NCAA tournament hopes with a win Saturday at home against No. 5 Kansas.
At times before his suspension, Smart pressed to score while he was in a slump, and his misses led to frustration that boiled over and cost his team. He has learned that his demeanor affects his teammates.
“The more fun and relaxed I can be, the more fun and relaxed this team’s going to be,” he said.
Coach Travis Ford said the Cowboys are playing their best team ball in a long time, and Smart’s new approach and renewed focus are the main reasons.
“I think the last two games, he’s played the way that’s made him one of the best players in America, and that’s as far as if you look across the stat sheet, there’s a lot of big numbers,” Ford said. “When he’s doing that, obviously, that makes him great and it makes our team a lot better.”
The Jayhawks (22-6, 13-2) already have clinched a share of the Big 12 title and can claim it outright on Saturday. Their success makes Saturday’s game an ideal test for the Cowboys to see if they truly are back on track.
The Cowboys have the Jayhawks’ attention. Last season, they ended Kansas’ 33-game home win streak, and Smart celebrated by doing a backflip. This season, in Lawrence, Kansas led by 17 at halftime, then held on to win 80-78 in a game that featured pushing, shoving and numerous technical fouls.
“I think the motivation is it’s Oklahoma State, and we’ve kind of developed a pretty good rivalry with them,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The last three games have been really close, last-possession-type games.”
Kansas features Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, freshmen who could be top picks in this year’s NBA draft. Wiggins averages 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Embiid averages 11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.